Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir (Beauchamp Heirs #2) by Janice Preston

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She’s totally unsuitable…

…to be his Duchess!

Dominic Beauchamp, Lord Avon, is a powerful duke’s heir and it’s his duty to marry well. His bride must have impeccable breeding, manners and grace. But can anyone meet his exacting standards? Certainly not the irrepressible Liberty Lovejoy, who’s been thrust into society after years of being a provincial nobody. She’s too bold, too bubbly…so why is she the only lady he’s thinking about?

Rating: B+

Janice Preston continues her Beauchamp Heirs series (featuring the children of Leo, Duke of Cheriton from the Beauchamp Betrothals series) with Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir, which sees the very proper and reserved Dominic, Marquess of Avon, meeting his match in the form of exactly the sort of young woman he can never consider as a potential bride. It’s a buttoned-up-hero-meets-free-spirited-heroine story, which I have to admit, is a trope I’m often a little wary of; some authors make their free-spirited heroines into annoyingly reckless, frequently TSTL caricatures who make me wonder what on earth the hero could possibly see in them. Fortunately, however, Ms. Preston doesn’t fall into that trap, and her heroine manages to be just the sort of breath of fresh air our hero needs while remaining firmly on the right side of the line between spirited and stupid.

Liberty Lovejoy and her siblings – her twin brother, Gideon and their sisters Hope and Verity – are in London for the Season following Gideon’s unexpected ascension to the title of Earl of Wendover. Liberty has no plans to attract a suitor; she was in love with her fiancé, who died of cholera some five years earlier and she has no wish to replace him, but she has hopes that her sisters will find good matches. Her brother, however, is giving her cause for concern, having got himself in with an undesirable set of young bucks who are clearly leading him astray, and having been unable to make Gideon see the error of his ways, she decides to take another tack. She’s led to believe that the man responsible for her brother’s sudden waywardness is Lord Alexander Beauchamp, younger son of the Duke of Cheriton, so she decides to speak to the duke, make him aware of her concerns and ask him to rein Alex in. When she arrives at the duke’s London residence however, she encounters Lord Alexander himself on the doorstep and tells him immediately what has brought her to Beauchamp House – only to discover that she’s not talking to Lord Alexander at all, but to his older brother Dominic, Marquess of Avon, who is widely known to be the most correct and upstanding gentleman in the entire ton. Oops. Liberty is thrown even further onto the back foot by the fact that this rather disdainful man has the face of a Greek God [and] the body of a warrior – but her irritation swiftly returns when the marquess tells her that her brother is undoubtedly following in the footsteps of many a young gentleman when faced with the delights London has to offer, and suggests that she is being rather too over-protective. This, of course, doesn’t go down very well, but Liberty is somewhat appeased when Avon says he’ll have a word with his brother.

Readers of Ms. Preston’s Beauchamp Betrothals series will no doubt recall Dominic, Leo’s eldest son and heir as being somewhat aloof and rather serious, intent on doing his duty and the right thing at all costs. Still intent on doing his duty, he has decided that it’s time he got married and secured the succession and is determined to choose a bride this Season, a young woman of good breeding, perfect behaviour and excellent bloodlines.

Needless to say, that young woman will be nothing at all like the outspoken Miss Lovejoy, whose  flashing eyes, lively manner and lush figure Dominic can’t seem to banish from his mind.  Berating himself for his folly and reminding himself of his late mother’s final request that he make her proud, he sets about making a list of the most suitable, eligible young ladies of the ton, determined to select one of them to be his marchioness.  With the Season in full swing, it’s a simple matter to make arrangements for drives or walks in the park, to dance at balls and to pay morning calls… but it’s not so simple to avoid encountering Liberty Lovejoy, beside whom all the other very suitable, very proper young ladies start to appear stilted and insipid.

Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir is a marvellous slow-burn romance between two people who are, at first glance, complete opposites, but who really have more in common than it first seems.  Dominic is so mired in the need to be the dutiful son, a need which stems back to his mother’s neglect when he was just a boy, that he has spent most of his adult life disregarding his own wishes and happiness.  He’s driven to be the perfect son, the perfect heir, the perfect everything, but can’t see that the only thing those who love him really want from him is for him to be happy.  Liberty has taken on a similiar role within her own family, that of looking out for everyone else and putting herself last, and has to come to a similar conclusion – that it’s alright for her to want things for herself.  I wasn’t sure about her at first, because I found her need to ‘save’ Gideon from himself rather annoying; I understood her concern, but she came across as too sanctimonious and interfering.  Fortunately however, she improves quickly and before long, I was enjoying her interactions with Dominic, which are extremely entertaining and well-written and rooting for them as a couple.  He gradually starts to unbend in her presence, and though he fights his attraction to Liberty almost all the way, he is ultimately helpless in the face of it.  I liked Liberty’s degree of self-awareness when she comes to realise that she’s ready to move on and find love again, and then again, when she tries to get Dominic to realise that he’s allowed to be happy and to want things for himself, even though those things may not include her.

Daring to Love the Duke’s Heir is a richly romantic, character-driven story featuring a couple who experience considerable growth (Dom especially) through their association, each offering the other something they badly need.  I did take issue with the way Dom is constantly harking back to his mother’s insistence that he do his duty and make her proud; given she died when he was eight and had never shown him the merest scrap of interest or affection I found it difficult to believe that a man now in his late twenties would accord her words such importance.  Other than that, however, I enjoyed the book very much and am pleased to give it a strong recommendation.

Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake (Beauchamp Heirs #1) by Janice Preston

lady olivia and the infamous rake

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‘He’s completely unsuitable… he’s a rake.’

After being plucked from peril by resolute bachelor Lord Hugo Alastair, Lady Olivia Beauchamp is secretly outraged that he doesn’t even try to steal a kiss! He’s a notorious rake amongst the ton and as a result, utterly forbidden to an innocent debutante like her. But their attraction is magnetic. Will she risk her reputation for a passionate encounter?

Rating: B

Janice Preston’s Beauchamp Betrothals series delivered happy endings for the three Beauchamp siblings – the Duke of Cheriton and his brother and sister.  Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake kicks off a spin-off series that focuses on the younger generation of Beauchamps, the Beauchamp Heirs; and while it’s not absolutely necessary to have read any of the earlier books, it probably helps to have an idea of who is who, because some of the events featured in them – most notably the marriages of Lord Vernon and Lady Cecily – are referred to in this book, even though they take place off the page.

Eighteen-year-old Lady Olivia is the only daughter of Leo, Duke of Cheriton, and his first wife.  She is enjoying her first Season, and as the daughter of a wealthy and influential peer she has the world at her feet and an adoring coterie of young bucks in tow wherever she goes.  To the outward observer, it seems she has everything, but Olivia is struggling to find her place within her family and to adapt to her father’s recent remarriage.  She’s happy for him and likes her stepmother, but she’s been plagued by feelings of inadequacy all her life, her mother’s  obvious disinterest in her children making Olivia wonder, deep down, if there’s something about her that is unlovable.  Over the years, the love of her close-knit family – especially her aunt Cecily (Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray) who has been a mother to her – has gone a long way towards suppressing those doubts but Olivia can’t quite rid herself of them, especially given the changes going on around her.

Olivia is getting just a bit tired of all the very proper balls and parties she attends and inveigles her brother Alex into taking her to Vauxhall Gardens one evening.  Masked and heavily cloaked, she is anticipating an evening of fun and excitement – and before long, she, Alex and his friend , Neville Wolfe, are invited to join a supper party, formed mostly of an older (and faster) set than the ladies and gentlemen she usually associates with.  Neville points out that these people aren’t really fit company for Olivia, but Alex is intent on spending time with a lovely, seductive widow who has caught his eye, and accepts the invitation.

Among the party is the disreputable and devilishly handsome Lord Hugo Alastair, a gentleman Olivia knows by sight but to whom she has never been introduced.  She knows he’s exactly the sort of man her Aunt Cecily would warn her about, but she can’t help the frisson of attraction she feels whenever he looks her way.  When Alex disappears with his widow, the party starts to break up and Olivia – who is by now rather tipsy – is goaded into playing piquet with Lord Clevedon.  When she loses, she panics, and offers her late mother’s ruby necklace as security for her debt, promising to meet with Clevedon at the end of the week to redeem it.

Lord Hugo’s scandalous reputation is well-deserved, but he’s become tired of that lifestyle over the past year or so and is determined to leave it behind.  When Clevedon – who has recognised Olivia in spite of her being masked – confides to Hugo that he intends to find a way to compromise her into marriage, Hugo is disgusted; an emotion compounded when Clevedon also tells him that another of their set has plans to ruin Alex as a way of taking revenge on Alex’s father for something that happened years earlier.  When Hugo sees Olivia being accosted by a group of young men, he intervenes and escorts her home; feeling guilty at the fact he’d encouraged her to play with Clevedon, he offers to help Olivia to redeem her mother’s necklace, and also says he will help to keep an eye on Alex.  He’s a little bewildered by his willingness to involve himself in the Beauchamp’s affairs – and tells himself it’s because Alex reminds him of himself at that age, and the idea of his being used to punish his father is abhorrent.  As for Lady Olivia… well, his attraction to her is inconvenient, but he knows there is no way he would ever be considered a suitable acquaintance and is determined to do the right thing and avoid coming into contact with her where possible.

The fact that Lady Olivia has other ideas is going to wreak havoc on his good intentions.

Ms. Preston does an excellent job of setting up the storylines which bring Hugo into the lives of the Beauchamp family, and she presents him as a responsible, mature young man who is ready for the next phase of his life, and who tries hard to do the right thing, no matter how difficult the circumstances.  He’s a well-rounded individual who has overcome a childhood marred by a violent father, and is at last discovering the joy of having family around him whom he loves and who love him.  He’s a lovely hero, but Olivia comes across as a bit of a spoiled brat for much of the story, and I couldn’t quite believe she deserved to end up with such a decent chap as Hugo.  She’s cognisant of her privilege and grateful for her loving family, but her insecurities push her into doing some silly things that could have adverse effects on others besides herself, which is something I always dislike.  That said, the author clearly shows why Olivia behaves as she does, and her reactions to being hurt or upset – to be dismissive,  haughty or deliberately contrary – ring very true as the sorts of thing that an eighteen year-old girl would do in an attempt at self-protection.

But in spite of that, I found it hard to warm to her because she continues to make poor decisions, until a potentially disastrous event towards the end finally forces her to grow up a little; it was only in the last few chapters that I started to feel that she could make a fitting partner for Hugo. I didn’t dislike Olivia; she’s not a bad person and her concern for Alex is admirable, but her immaturity too often causes her to come across as selfish.

That’s really my only issue with the book, because the rest of it – the plot, the familial relationships, the hero and the romance – are all well written and developed.   All in all, Lady Olivia and the Infamous Rake is an engaging and satisfying historical romance, and I’m recommending it in spite of my reservations.

Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray (Beauchamp Betrothals #3) by Janice Preston


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Love or family…How can she choose between them?

Lady Cecily Beauchamp has always put her family first. Until she falls under the spell of the mysterious Zachary Gray–a man of Romany descent. Knowing her family will forbid their match, Cecily steels herself to do her duty and marry someone else. Only she finds herself irresistibly drawn to Zach as the spark between them ignites a passion neither can deny!

Rating: B

In Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray, the third book in her Beauchamp Betrothals series, author Janice Preston introduces readers to Lady Cecily Beauchamp, thirty-year-old spinster sister of Leo, Duke of Cheriton and his brother, Vernon, who both found their HEAs in the previous books in the series.  It’s a gently moving story in which Cecily, who has devoted her life to her family, finds herself torn between familial love and romantic love; after years of putting others first, can she find the courage to follow her own heart or will the duty and decorum that have always been expected of her prove too strong to overcome?

While Cecily is delighted that both her brothers have found love, she’s finding it difficult to stop herself dwelling on the prospect of the life of ‘maiden-aunt-hood’ that now stretches before her.  At thirty, she’s been on the shelf for some years and has spent the best part of her life running the family home and was the main carer of Leo’s young three children after the death of their mother.  With those children now grown to adulthood and Leo newly married, Cecily’s life has changed irrevocably and she is no longer needed by anyone.

These thoughts weigh heavily on her during Vernon’s wedding, and she is hard pressed to maintain the poise characteristic of her – but maintain it she does, no matter that she’s feeling despondent and very fragile.  But as the day wears on, she finds increasingly difficult to maintain her social mask and escapes into the garden for a few minutes’ peace.  Which is where she literally bumps into the distractingly handsome Mr. Zachary Gray, a fellow guest and friend of the bride’s brother, Daniel Markham.  Mr Gray somehow divines her state of unrest and gently encourages her to share her burdens with him, and even though Cecily knows the damage that could be done to her reputation should she be discovered walking with a man unchaperoned, there’s something about him that draws her, a confidence and self-awareness she finds very attractive.

Cecily continues to think of the mysterious Mr. Gray – Zach, as he asked her to call him – throughout the evening, and they meet again a few times over the next few days.  But all the time, she is conscious that while he might be a friend of the Markhams, Zach is viewed with suspicion and prejudice, even by her brothers, who subtly and then not-so subtly warn her against him.  In any case, Cecily has no hopes in that direction – or so she tries to persuade herself – because she has reached a decision.  A year earlier she had turned down a proposal from Lord Kilburn, a man older than she with a young family; but marriage will mean she can avoid the role of dependent relative, and she decides to see if Kilburn is prepared to renew his offer.

Zach has lived with prejudice for most of his life but he refuses to apologise for who and what he is.  He is actually the son of an earl and a Romany woman who were legally married and disowned by society – after his mother’s death when he was sixteen, he went to live with her people and has continued to follow their way of living ever since.  The author has clearly done her homework on the Romany way of life, and presents it in a subtle way – and she also does a very good job showing the sort of blind prejudice Zach and his people faced, even from people like Cecily’s brothers, who are decent, honourable gentlemen.  Zach is a lovely hero; a man who is comfortable in his own skin, and who has learned the importance of being true to oneself.  He’s honest and genuine, the sort of man who doesn’t need to be high-handed or arrogant because he has nothing to prove to anyone, and he’s completely swoonworthy.

When Zach meets Cecily, he recognises her vulnerability and her desire to do and be more than the perfect lady she has been brought up to be.  He longs to show her how to live for herself and how to listen to her heart; he knows that she isn’t for him, that he shouldn’t be looking for her or spending much time with her, but he can’t help himself.

Before long, however, Leo and Vernon realise that Cecily and Zach have been spending time together, and forbid her to see him again.  Cecily is horribly torn, but the prospect of leaving behind her beloved family and everything she has ever known terrifies her, and here I’ll admit to being in two minds about her.  On the one hand, Cecily is so scared at the thought of striking out on a path different to the one she has followed most of her life that it makes her seem rather insipid.  But on the other, that fear is something we have probably all faced, and in all likelihood, some of us have taken the path of familiarity and of least resistance, even though we suspect doing so might not make us happy.  And in Cecily’s case, her initial choice of the life she knows over the life she could have is perfectly in keeping with the sort of woman she is – one brought up to value propriety, duty and decorum above personal wishes.  So while I can’t deny I was a little disappointed in her at that point, I appreciated that the author has created a heroine who is very much of her time and of her class.  And I definitely appreciated the character growth she exhibits in the second half of the book as she comes to realise that Zach is right and she needs to listen to her heart and reach out for what she wants.

To sum up, Lady Cecily and the Mysterious Mr. Gray is a well-written, strongly characterised and emotionally satisfying story featuring two likeable principals who act, talk and think like adults – something that isn’t always a given in romance novels.  My one real criticism of the book is that while the chemistry between Cecily and Zach is evident, the beginning of their romance is rather abrupt; I wouldn’t quite call it insta-love, but it’s close, and readers are told the pair are falling in love rather than being shown it.  That said, this is nonetheless a story I’m happy to recommend to anyone in search of a low-angst, sweetly sensual historical romance.

Scandal and Miss Markham (Beauchamp Betrothals #2) by Janice Preston

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

A scandalous journey…

Glassmaker’s daughter Thea Markham is devastated when her brother Daniel goes missing. Then a mysterious lord turns up asking questions about Daniel and offers to find him. Unsure she can trust the handsome peer, Thea dresses up as a boy and follows him!

Lord Vernon Beauchamp feels his life lacks direction. Meeting Thea gives him a renewed purpose. And when they are thrown together on their scandalous adventure, friendship soon gives way to desire…

Rating: B

Scandal and Miss Markham is the second book in Janice Preston’s Beauchamp Betrothals series, and picks up the story of Lord Vernon Beauchamp, the younger brother of Leo, the Duke of Cheriton whose romance was featured in the previous book, Cinderella and the Duke.  Rather like his brother, Vernon meets his match in a most unexpected place and falls in love with a young woman not from his social class; but unlike the previous book, there is less drama and angst and the story – a road-trip romance – feels more cohesive and its events less episodic.

Miss Dorothea Markham (Thea) is the daughter of a successful glass manufacturer who lives with her parents and brother, Daniel, in Worcestershire.  Her father has been unwell for some time following a stroke a few years back, and her mother – who holds Thea partly responsible for her husband’s illness – spends almost all her time caring for him and has little time to spare for her children.  Between them, Daniel and Thea now run the family business, but Daniel had begun behave oddly of late, and now hasn’t been home for five days and Thea is worried.  Not wanting to stir up unnecessary trouble for Daniel or for word to get out about his disappearance to adversely affect the business, Thea doesn’t call in any help; she doesn’t even tell her parents because she doesn’t want to worry her father – but by the fifth day she is practically frantic and berating herself for not trying to find him sooner.

The arrival of an unexpected – and unknown – visitor who insists on seeing Daniel interrupts Thea’s self-recriminations and increasingly agitated train of thought.  By his clothes and bearing, Thea sees instantly that this is a gentleman, although she has never seen him before and can’t think what he could want with her brother.  The visitor introduces himself as Lord Vernon Beauchamp, explaining that he seeks to investigate the contents of a letter Daniel wrote to Vernon’s brother, the Duke of Cheriton, in which he expressed concern about a distant cousin of the Beauchamps, one Henry Mannington.  Thea has never heard of Mannington and is anxious to get rid of her unwanted visitor, but he is quick to sense something is not right and she ends up telling him about Daniel’s disappearance.  Vernon is immediately drawn to this petite spitfire of a woman who clearly views men of his class as useless for anything but the pursuit of their own selfish depravity, and, with a shock, realises that he actually wants to help; his position as a ducal ‘spare’ leaves him playing second fiddle most of the time, and while he loves his brother and family, it does mean that Vernon has struggled to find his own place in the world.  Now, though, he senses an opportunity to actually do something useful, so he offers to help Thea to find her brother.  Or rather, he offers to find her brother while Thea sits at home and waits – which won’t do for her at all.

While pretending that she is content with such an arrangement, Thea is making plans to follow Vernon – in disguise of course – which she does, shortly after his departure for the local pub, The Nag’s Head, where he has told her he intends to ask around to glean what information he can.  Thea is well aware that what she is doing by travelling alone – even wearing boy’s clothing – is dangerous and also knows that Vernon is sure to discover her at some point.  But her plan is not to avoid discovery altogether – just for long enough so that they’re far enough away that it will be impractical for him to send her back home.

I’m not normally a fan of heroine-in-breeches stories, but it works here because the hero knows what’s going on from (almost) the start and, realising that no matter what he says or does, Thea will search for her brother with or without him, Vernon makes the effort to make the deception as plausible as possible.  Ms. Preston has crafted an engaging story which sees the couple travelling together for several days as they gradually begin to amass clues and piece together what happened to Daniel.  She cleverly weaves in an element of Thea’s backstory that at first seemed unrelated, but which gradually assumes greater importance as they realise the full extent of the betrayal and wrongdoing that has been practiced upon Thea and upon both families, while at the same time developing the relationship between the two leads in a believable way.

The story takes place over a matter of days, but the romance doesn’t feel rushed.  Vernon is intrigued by Thea from the start, by the way she speaks her mind and makes no secret of her disdain for his ‘type’, while she is prickly and hates that she needs his help in order to do something she wants to do for herself.  They have strong chemistry and make a great couple, although Thea’s distrust of Vernon – which is understandable, given that the last man she trusted abandoned her at the altar after swindling her father out of a large sum of money – goes on for a bit too long considering he proves himself over and over to be supportive and to have her best interests at heart.  She is also apt to jump into a situation without properly thinking things through – which can be a little irritating – but fortunately, she does admit that fault and attempts to learn from her mistakes.

Those really are my only criticisms of what is otherwise a well thought-out story that moves at a good pace and in which the two protagonists are engaging and strongly characterised.  Vernon might be a teeny bit too good to be true, but I liked the way he is willing to adjust his perceptions and admits that his eyes have been opened to the truth of people’s lives outside his privileged London circles – and his genuine desire to do something positive to help.  In the end, this seemingly mis-matched couple have a lot to offer each other; helping Thea supplies the sense of purpose Vernon is looking for while his care and honesty help her to regain her self-confidence and ability to trust.

Scandal and Miss Markham – which works perfectly well as a standalone – packs plenty of story and romance into its 288 pages and is definitely worth picking up when you want a quick, but satisfying read.

 

Cinderella and the Duke (Beauchamp Betrothals #1) by Janice Preston

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Falling for a duke in disguise!

Never welcomed into society circles, Rosalind Allen gave up her marriage prospects long ago—life has taught her she’ll only get hurt. So she’s shocked when an encounter with a mysterious stranger makes her long to reconsider…

Little does Rosalind know that her mystery man is Leo Beauchamp, Duke of Cheriton, travelling in disguise to evade the ladies of the ton! Impoverished Rosalind is the first woman to captivate Leo—but can he persuade this wary Cinderella to trust him with her heart?

Rating: B-

While I’m certainly not averse to the use of the Cinderella trope, I was actually quite pleased to discover that the title of Cinderella and the Duke is not all that representative of the story contained within the pages of this novel. The characters are slightly older than are normally found in historical romance (he’s just hit forty, she’s thirty), which I appreciated, and our nominal Cinders isn’t so much downtrodden by her horrible family as she has taken upon herself the burden of looking after them all to such an extent that she has resigned herself to not having a life of her own.

Due to a complicated family situation – and to prevent her lovely, eighteen year-old step-sister being sold off in order to pay her guardian’s debts – Rosalind Allen moves herself and her two siblings (brother and aforementioned step-sister) to a small house on a neighbouring estate before sending her sister to London in the charge of her aunt, Lady Glenlochrie, to make her London début. Lady Helena Caldicot (Nell) is a diamond of the first water and the daughter of an earl, so Rosalind dearly hopes that she will make a suitable match which will forever remove her from her guardian’s power.

Out walking one day, Rosalind is accosted by a fine gentleman who has obviously been riding with the hunt – and who makes it clear that he is now interested in hunting down a very different quarry. He corners Rosalind and makes her very nervous, but fortunately is soon joined by three other gentlemen, one of whom diffuses the situation and leaves Rosalind to continue on her way.

Rosalind’s rescuer is Leo Beauchamp, Duke of Cheriton, who prefers, when away from London to travel as Mr. Leo Boyton so as not to find himself knee-deep in ambitious, marriage-minded young ladies thrown at him by their equally ambitious mamas. He has been a widower for a number of years and has three grown-up children – two sons and a daughter, who is about to make her come-out and has come to stay with his cousin, the bastard son of the previous Duke of Cheriton, in the hope that perhaps the man’s long sojourn abroad might have improved their relationship. It hasn’t. He is as unpleasant and competitive as ever and Leo is beginning to regret his visit.

The next day, Leo encounters Rosalind again and introduces himself as Mr. Boyton.  She had already made herself known as Mrs. Pryce – having previously assumed a different name in order to protect Nell (again – complicated).  Leo can’t deny the strength of the attraction he had experienced on first seeing Rosalind and senses the feeling is mutual.  She is a widow (he thinks) and it’s been a long time since he’s felt this sort of instantaneous connection with a woman and thinks that perhaps a dalliance with a lovely widow is just what he needs to lessen his irritation with his smarmy cousin and temper his boredom.

Rosalind is just as strongly drawn to the authoritatively handsome Mr. Boyton, and decides it’s time for her to experience something of life’s pleasures for herself.  Having spent almost half of her thirty years raising Freddie and her step-siblings, she has resigned herself to never marrying or having a family of her own, but isn’t going to pass up this chance to make some good memories to take with her as she dwindles into spinsterhood.

A relationship begun in deceit by both parties is naturally not destined to go well, and given that Leo’s late wife’s frequent infidelities have made him suspicious of women and their motives, it’s not long before he jumps to the conclusion that Rosalind has deliberately set out to spring the trap he’s spent years avoiding, and is out to secure herself a position as his duchess. Rosalind is stunned and furious that he could think such a thing – and then deeply hurt that the man with whom she has fallen in love could have treated her so shabbily.  But she is not afforded much time to brood upon her situation because a letter from Lady Glenlochrie summons her and Freddie urgently to London and turns her attention to Nell’s situation.

When Rosalind and Leo meet again, Leo is still deeply mistrustful, in spite of the fact that he missed Rosalind dreadfully and has recognised the truth of his feelings for her. But he soon begins to understand the reasons behind her deception about her identity and to realise that he had been too quick to jump to a very unfair conclusion.  They gradually begin to regain their earlier closeness, but Rosalind is stubborn and makes some bad judgements of her own when she feels that Leo is trying to organise her life and take her family away from her.  It’s perhaps a little extreme, but the author does a good job here of showing that Rosalind knows she is being irrational even as she is protesting the changes going on around her; she has spent so long taking care of others that she finds it difficult to let go and allow Freddie and Nell to live their own lives and make their own decisions and is worried at the prospect of no longer being needed.

Leo’s experience of marriage has made him wary of trusting others and he has built up emotional walls in an attempt to protect himself from experiencing such disillusionment and heartache again.  He is sometimes a little high-handed and his belief that Rosalind has set out to trap him is rather contrived, but he is possessed of an insight borne of maturity that is extremely attractive, and his obvious devotion to his family and his willingness to open himself to love again for Rosalind’s sake make him a worthy hero.

The sub-plot concerning Leo’s nasty cousin is perhaps a bit creaky and the Big Misunderstanding – a plot device of which I’m not a fan – is arrived at in too contrived a manner, but overall, Cinderella and the Duke is an enjoyable read featuring a couple of flawed but likeable principals, and gets Janice Preston’s new Beauchamp Betrothals series off to a good start.

The Governess’s Secret Baby (Governess Tales #4) by Janice Preston

governess-secret-baby

The Beauty who tamed the Beast…

New governess Grace Bertram will do anything to get to know her young daughter Clara. Even if it means working for Clara’s guardian, the reclusive and scarred Nathaniel, Marquess of Ravenwell!

Nathaniel believes no woman could ever love a monster like him, until Grace seems to look past his scars to the man beneath… But when he discovers Grace is Clara’s mother, Nathaniel questions his place in this torn-apart family. Could there be a Christmas happy ever after for this beauty and the beast?

Rating: B

One thing you can say about Harlequin Historicals – What You See is generally What You Get when it comes to titles, and The Governess’s Secret Baby is pretty much exactly what it says on the cover. This is the final book of The Governess Tales, a set of four books written by four different authors. Each of the stories features one of a group of friends who trained to become governesses at Madame DuBois’ School for Young Ladies in Salisbury. I was fairly underwhelmed by the first book, The Cinderella Governess, but enjoyed this final instalment much more, as the story is more solidly developed and the central characters more engaging and rounded. This book works perfectly well as a standalone, so anyone new to the series won’t be disadvantaged by reading out of order.

We learned in the first book that one of the ladies, Grace Bertram, was expecting. Grace managed to keep her pregnancy a secret for most of its duration, and after she’d given birth, gave up her baby for adoption, knowing there was no way she would be able to earn a living if it were known she had borne an illegitimate child. On the day she left the school, one of her teachers disclosed to Grace the name of the people who had adopted Clara, and Grace determined to track them down to make sure that her daughter was well and happy.

Unfortunately, by the time Grace was able to find out more, her daughter’s adoptive parents had died in a tragic accident, and Clara had been taken to Shiverstone Hall in Yorkshire to live with her ‘uncle’, Nathaniel Pembroke, the Marquess of Ravenwell, whose sister had been Clara’s mother for almost two years.

Grace makes her way to the village of Shivercombe, where the stories she hears of the reclusive young marquess are, frankly, disturbing, making her all the more determined to ensure that her daughter is being well-treated. She arrives at Shiverstone Hall dishevelled, muddy and windblown, and is mistaken by the sharp-toned master of the house for the governess he has advertised for. Sensing an opportunity to actually see Clara and interact with her rather than just hear about her, Grace says that she has indeed been sent there in response to the marquess’ request, and is reunited with her daughter.

The story progresses as expected, the mutual attraction between Nathaniel and Grace beginning to simmer as they also bond through their shared concern for Clara. Nathaniel is a good, kind man who was badly scarred in the fire that killed his father some nine years earlier and who has allowed his insecurities to dictate the course of his live ever since.  Outright rejection by the woman he loved and then by the lady his mother had arranged for him to marry has led him to believe his scars must disgust anyone who sees them and he has resigned himself to a life lived in isolation. He keeps himself to himself, content with his dogs and the birds of prey he trains and flies around the estate.  But Clara brings some much needed love and vitality into his life.  He dotes on her and she clearly adores him; I’m not a great fan of children in romance novels, but the relationship between two-year-old Clara and he Uncle ‘Naffanal’ is charmingly done; and the way that Nathaniel realises that he needs to make changes in his life that may not be particularly comfortable for him, but which Clara needs, is admirable.

The fact that spending time with Clara means spending time with the new governess is both a delight and a torment. He tries to stay away from Grace in the hopes of crushing his burgeoning attraction to her, but he quickly realises that keeping away is not fair to Clara, who needs consistency and routine in her life.

Grace is attracted to Nathaniel despite his scars, recognising him for what he is – a decent, loving and loveable man who has been badly hurt on the inside as well as out.  She wants to bring him out of his protective shell, and sometimes it seems as though she is going to succeed – but then something happens to make him withdraw from her again.  Their romance is something of a two-steps-forward, one-step-back thing until quite late in the book, but fortunately, the misunderstanding that threatens their happiness isn’t overly drawn out, and both Nathaniel and Grace are allowed their just desserts – the family that both of them have longed for.

For all its predictability, The Governess’s Secret Baby is well-written, emotionally nuanced and strongly characterised. The love story is nicely-paced and the romantic tension between the couple builds gradually, making their romance believable and their eventual coming together feel well-deserved.   Grace’s relief and delight at being with her daughter again are palpable and Nathaniel is an attractive ‘beastly’ hero who displays the sort of maturity and understanding often lacking in that type of character, who will often lock himself away in his pity party and see no need to attempt to make his life any better.  While Nathaniel starts out by trying to live that sort of existence, he is sensible enough to know that his life has changed and he needs to change with it, and I really liked that about him.

As this is the last book in the series, there is a fairly long and overly sweet epilogue which reunites the four heroines and their respective spouses and offspring for the following Christmas.  Call me Scrooge (go on, you know you want to!) but I don’t see that this adds anything to the book apart from the potential for a sugar-induced coma and I could happily have done without it.

But that apart, I enjoyed Grace’s story and would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and charming read. It’s the first time I’ve read Janice Preston’s work, and I’ll certainly be seeking out more of her books on the strength of this one.